Just when you needed it you slided a joker down the sleeve. A real surprise it was, from Argentina’s huge wine region Mendoza.
Gerardo Michelini and his wife Andrea Muffato started this venture in the village Gualtallary (in the Uco valley) in 2012, after having worked for a long time in wine. Everything is organically farmed. In general they use whole cluster maceration with long skin-contact. A spontaneous fermentation is carried out in cement eggs, steel or large oak vats. Additions are kept at a minimum.
This is a blend of 50% malbec and 50% pinot noir from a young vineyard (planted in 2006) situated at 1.400 meters altitude in calcareous, stony soils. It’s made in steel, and saw some carbonic maceration. Unfined and unfiltered.
Ji Ji Ji Malbec CO2 Pinot Noir 2017 (Gen del Alma)
Dark cherry, violet hue. Fruity, aromas of dark berries (blackberry, blueberry), stony minerality and a hint of pepper. Fresh, juicy and carbonic with a touch of tannin. The alcohol is low at 11.5%.
Food: Meat (poultry, veal, pig), white fish, salads, fresh and hard cheeses
We have seen several natural wines now that really can age. (Here is a good one from Granada, and here an even older wine from Dão, Portugal.)
Let me tell you about one from Ribera del Duero, Castilla y León (Spain). Goyo García Viadero, the man behind it, comes from a respected family in wine. I got in touch with him through Bodegas Valduero of Gumiel del Mercado, where his sister Yolanda is winemaker.
Goyo started to produce his own naturally made wines in 2003. He has three small plots near Roa, with different soil types and at various altitudes. And they are the “toda la vida” kind of vineyards, where white varieties grow together with reds. The idea is to express the characteristics of the vineyard, rather than each grape variety.
(Credit: G. García)
All wines are de-stemmed, fermented exclusively with wild yeast, and nothing is added during elevage, neither any SO2. The wines are raised in old French barrels in a very old underground cellar in Gumiel.
The Viñas de Arcilla is Goyo’s only mono-varietal cuvée, 100% tinto fino (tempranillo). It comes from a very old vineyard, clay-dominated (as the name suggests) with some lime-stone, at more than 800 meters altitude. It’s produced with a similar vinification and elevage as outlined above.
Finca Viñas de Arcilla 2010(Goyo García Viadero/ Explotaciones Valduero)
Deep cherry red, signs of development. Cherry, mature fruits, a bit earthy and peaty. Still some fine-grained tannins, lovely acidity and quite persistent. Not heavy at all, and with none of the oakiness often associated with this wine region.
At a younger stage it is perhaps the most powerful of his wines, with a solid structure, but it’s always juicy and surprisingly open too. Now I would say it’s near its peak.
Food: The suckling pigs or lambs of the region, any kind of roasts and red meat, and don’t forget the wild mushrooms
Plateau has been Brighton’s palace of natural wines for many years now. Since my last visit Jake, from the bar 1909 (see here), has taken over as a manager. His partner Jon has taken over as bar manager after Johan (see another report from Plateau here), who is now at Cincin Hove (more about that later). The kitchen team is led by James Mcilveen, and takes great pride in serving good, organic food from local farms. To jump to the conclusion: Plateau still delivers!
Our waiter Alex led us safely through the menu with its bites and plates. If my memory doesn’t fail me we ended up with cured trout, lobster bisque, beef tartar, bavette steak, everything with a creative twist, and concluded with a board of five English cheeses.
Here are the wines that we enjoyed this dark October evening in Brighton, everything chosen from their by-the-glass offer.
Pétillant Naturel 2017 (Famille de Conti)
A charming, straightforward pet nat from the de Conti family’s château in Bergerac, in the French Sud-Oest. It’s made from varieties sauvignon blanc (90%) and chenin blanc, according to biodynamic principles, unfiltered and with no added sulphur. The colour is light yellow. Smells of red apples and some light tropic fruit (litchis). Appley fruit, and quite high acidity to balance some residual sugar.
Impera 2015(Dva Duby)
This is a wine grown in stony soil in southern Moravia (Czech Republic), close to the Austrian border. The grapes are well-known in their neighbouring country too: 70% St. Laurent (here called svatovavrinecke) and blaufränkish (here: frankovka). It’s a cherry red (light, I think – it was difficult to see the colour in the room), delicate and fruity (raspberry), and luscious, smooth and fruity in the mouth, with just a slight touch of oak (almost too little to mention).
Continuing with two wines from La Clarine Farm, Sierra Foothills (California), both called jambalaia (sic!), blanc and rouge respectively.
In the sparse light of the bar the picture became as unclear as the wine itself…
La Clarine Farm Jambalaia Blanc 2015(LaClarine Farm)
The ‘blanc’ was not exactly white, but sorted under orange, as the skin-contact had been quite prolonged. Dominated by Rhône grapes, mostly viognier, but also marsanne, and with small percentages of petit manseng and albariño.
Smells of white flowers, citrus, peach, pineapple. Juicy in the mouth, but also with a high acidity, and a slight bitterness in the finish.
La Clarine Farm Jambalaia Rouge 2015(LaClarine Farm)
Here all grapes are known as Rhône grapes, although the main grape mourvèdre is of Spanish origin (and known as monastrell).
Cherry red, cloudy. Good fruit, raspberry, cherry, somewhat earthy. A bit tannic, quite high acidity.
A wine from Valle de Uco inside the bigger region of Mendoza (Argentina). The winemaker is Pol Andsnes. Being Norwegian, for me this name can evoke distinctive classical piano chords, but this Andsnes is a wine punk born in San Francisco, who wants to challenge established ways to make wine, according to his own website. ‘Polos opuestos’ is Spanish for ‘poles apart’, and as I read him, Pol is satisfied if the ideas from the opposition once can be the norm. Something like that. Anyway, this wine is made from three barrels of Chardonnay vinified in three different ways. You can read from the drawing on the label that they are one barrel of direct pressing and reductive ageing on lees, one barrel of one year skin contact, and one barrel of direct pressing aged under flor. They were blended after two years.
The colour is obviously quite dark (a better description is difficult in this -lack of- light). It’s fresh, with flowers, orange peel and yellow apples; quite full-bodied, with a solid backbone, and an oxidative character from the flor. It’s an interesting experiment and a wine with lots of vitality, and the winemaker’s energy shines through.
Plateau has many natural wine classics and many of my personal favourites on their current list. Some are Foillard, Ganevat, Landron, Matassa, Frick, Maule, COS, Alfredo Maestro, Barranco Oscuro, Testalonga, to name only a few. Sniff around these pages, and you will meet all of them. And you have understood by now that this natural wine bar is highly recommended, it never disappoints – and if you get the chance: Go there!
Before going for a stroll on the black Brighton november beach, we rounded it all off with a well-known champagne. It was the Cuvée Réserve Brut, from Pierre Gerbais, whose son Aurélien I met at a London wine fair a couple of years ago (see here). This red and white grape champagne is a lightly coloured, apple and citrus scented wine with a contribution of red fruits (strawberry, raspberry), and bisque, that ends off with an inspiring acidity.
Domaine de Majas is run by Alain and Agnes Carrère. The 30 hectare domain is located in the Roussillon by the village Caudiès de Fenouillèdes. Tom Lubbe from nearby Domaine Matassa helped to change into organic cultivation. The vineyards are at 350-400 meters’ height in slopes with good exposure and drenage. We see around 120 year old vines of carignan, grenache noir and macabeu, and younger (30-35 years) of syrah, cabernet franc, merlot, rolle and chardonnay. The climate is affected by the nearness of the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean sea.
The wines are fermented with natural yeasts in old cement tanks, some steel and a small percentage old, used wood.
Here we experience harsh winters and warm, sunny summers. The tough northwestern wind from the Pyrenees and the wet Mediterranean breeze often follow each other.
Even if the domain lies within the AOC Côtes du Roussillon they often choose to classify their wines as Vin de Pays de Côtes Catalanes, to honour what they consider te be a unique area.
The soil is mainly chalky clay and schist.
The grapes for this wine are grenache 50%, grenache gris 25%, and grenache blanc 25%. They were hand-harvested, naturally fermented in cement and aged there for 6 months.
Cortado 2017(Dom. de Majas)
Light ruby. Aroma of white flowers, plums, peach and raspberry. In the mouth it’s intense, fruity with round tannins.
Chateau Maris started out in 1997, with an aim to make good wines working in harmony with nature. They soon discovered that biodynamics was the best for their vineyards.
It’s now a 32 hectares estate comprised of small vineyards on the hillside above the village of La Liviniere of Minervois, Languedoc.
This wine is a varietal syrah made with no added sulphites. Maceration went for one month with gentle pumping
over and ‘pigeage’ (punching down).
Savoir Vieillir 2017(Ch. Maris)
Dense, dark red, almost opaque. Fruit-driven, with young berries (blueberry, blackberry), hints of spices. Luscious, juicy mouthfeel, a touch of young tannin, cool fruit, but also a touch of warm alcohol (14,5%).
I had just read about the wine bar that Pedro Caiado opened six months ago, when he phoned me to ask about one of the producers that can be found in several posts of this blog. But it was only yesterday that I got a chance to visit his Portuguese place.
Let’s just conclude that he has managed to establish a fabulous place. It’s the kind of wine bar that I like, with a strong focus on natural wines, and small, well-elaborated bites to go with them. Quite unusual is that the food also is mostly organic, and from local producers.
Pedro is from the Portuguese surfer’s paradise of Peniche, where the winds always blow. But love, what else, brought him to Norway. When I was there he was accompanied by Lise, newly employed, who hails from northern Norway, but has been living abroad for many years, mostly London. Lise has specialized in fermenting, she uses it in some of the dishes, and is also planning to offer courses.
Lise and Pedro
The wine list obviously contains Portuguese producers, such as Conceito, Aphros, Mouraz and Pellada. But there are also some of the classics within the natural wine world, such as Cornelissen (Sicilia, Italy), Gut Oggau (Steiermark, Austria), and the French Matassa, Ganevat, Riffault and Robinot, all of whom (Portuguese and “foreign”) should be known to readers of this blog. And there are also up and coming names like the Spanish Ismael Gozalo, Alfredo Maestro and Bodegas Cueva, also well covered here, and Chapuis Frères (Bourgogne, France) and Stekar (Slovenia).
It was a late Friday lunch, and I was going to a jazz jam with dinner immediately after this, so I limited myself to three wines from the by-the-glass selection. To go with them Pedro suggested eggs in olive oil with fresh sour-dough bread, ricotta with basil, sunchokes and stingray.
I came a short while before they actually opened after the break, so I was offered a cup of coffee, a fresh African highland style selected by Norwegian barista Tim Wendelboe.
The first wine was from Moravia, Czech Republic (see a recent post). Gewürztraminer 2017(Krásná Hora), a 6 months skin-contact white. Not straigh white, that is, it has a red-ish hue. The aromas include gooseberry/raspberry, citrus and some rhubarb, and it has quite concentrated flavours and good acidity.
Next out was Nat Cool 2016(Niepoort). Niepoort is “everything” in Portuguese wine: The house is a traditional port wine producer, and as such a star within several categories such as colheita and garrafeira, but really not bad (read: average) in the other styles either. Dirk Niepoort has taken it further, and has now establish himself as a top in several Portuguese regions, and abroad too, like the neighbouring Ribeira Sacra of Spain, and in Austria, as his former wife is from there. This wine is from Bairrada, from the variety baga, made in cement. And it’s really is cool: Light cherry red, almost rosé, smells of strawberry and raspberry, and it has a light touch of tannin. It was served chilled too, which is a good idea.
A cool bairrada with ricotta, basil and roasted sunchokes
Vale da Capucha is the producer I talked about in the beginning, so it was only natural that I ended this session with a wine from my friend Pedro Marques, who runs that winery. Fossil Tinto 2015 is the current vintage of this touriga-dominated blend, that also exists in a white version. Fossil is an appropriate name, as the winery is located in the Torres Vedras area of the Lisboa region, only 8 km from the sea, and was in ancient times under water. Dark red, smells of dark and red berries, herbs, and it’s a little spicy too. In the mouth it shows a fine, natural, integrated tannin grip and ditto acidity.
Fossil red and stingray
While sitting in the inner side of the bar I could see Pedro serve all kinds of customers with true respect and patience. I have the greatest confidence that this tiny wine bar has a future place in a city with many good restaurants and bars already.
Here is another varietal cinsault. This variety can be said to be in fashion today. The reason is probably that many vintners have seen its virtues as much more than a grape for blending. Today it’s used many places, in particular have we seen many interesting wines from South Africa. Here is one from southern France, where we used to meet it most often in the past.
(Credit: Mas Onésime)
Mas Onésime is located in La Liquière, one of the tiny villages in is hillside of the Faugères appellation. The domaine consists of 12 hectares within the village.
Vigneron Olivier Villanueva talks about the many colours of the schists in Faugères, “from ochre and grey to orange with deep blue veins”. This sub-oil is among the oldest, and consists of gravelly schists that date, in his own words “back to the beginning of time”.
Most of the vines at the Mas are fifty years old, in steep vineyards with breathtaking views.
The grapes are harvested by hand, sorted, de-stemmed and brought to the cellar immediately after being picked. The grapes are placed in vats, without pumping and using only a natural gravity. Olivier strives to make authentic wines, with techniques as natural as possible.
This wine is only cinsault, hand harvested, sorted and fully destemmed. The yield was 25 hl/ha. It had 14 days of maceration in stainless steel tank, and also ageing in a tank for 14 days.
Le Cinsault 2016 (Mas Onésime)
Ruby red. Aroma of red berries (raspberry, plums), thyme and a touch of white pepper, juicy, luscious, supple in the mouth, with only a slight tannin and a pleasant natural acidity.
Food: Light meat, try also lamb with provençal herbs, ratatouille, salads, grilled fish